By Chris Nelder
Posting in Cities
Energy futurist Chris Nelder argues that we should consider high speed rail and freight rail in the context of full lifecycle costs and total transportation reform.
Transportation infrastructure is one of the most urgent challenges we face today, but the debate about it misguidedly focuses too much on the present. This week I will attempt to reframe it in the context of the past and the future.
First, I must note that it’s surprisingly difficult to find accurate, comprehensive, and cost-adjusted figures on the sunk cost of our existing transportation regime, and the cost of its ongoing maintenance. A proper analysis would be an enormous task, properly undertaken by the Department of Transportation and the Department of Energy (and one might legitimately ask why haven’t they tried it). For this exercise I will just try to find some reasonably sound data points and make some reasonable estimates to establish some round, ballpark numbers, without citing a long list of sources (but I will make references available on request).
Let’s begin with what we’ve already spent, and are committed to spending.
The whole of the existing infrastructure of airports and highways has cost somewhere over $2 trillion to build, in aggregate, non-cost adjusted terms. The Interstate Highway System alone cost around $425 billion. In current dollars and resource prices, the replacement cost would be some multiple of that.
Because we’re dependent on it to keep everything moving, we’re also committed to spending at least $186 billion per year* just to maintain surface transportation at the existing level of service. Add in expected demand growth from rising populations, and some much-needed upgrades, the costs would certainly be over $200 billion per year. That’s an investment of over $5.4 trillion through 2035.
Gridlock -- sitting unproductively in traffic, going nowhere fast -- already costs us over $100 billion per year in wasted time. Air transportation delay costs are estimated between $30 and $40 billion a year.
We have similar sunk costs and structural commitments to oil. In simple, round terms (19 million barrels a day demand at the 2011 average price of $95 a barrel), the US spends around $660 billion a year on liquid fuels. In 2006, the cost of our military expenditures related to oil (like protecting the supply route from the Persian Gulf) was estimated at $133 billion a year. So we’re spending nearly $800 billion a year in hard money for fuel and military coverage. Add in squishier externalized costs, like environmental damage, carbon emissions and pollution-related health care costs related to oil, and you’re talking at least another $400 billion a year.
At an average price of nearly $30,000 and annual sales running at 9.6 million per year, we currently spend about $288 billion per year on new passenger vehicles. The value of the existing rolling stock of over 250 million cars and light trucks is hard to estimate, but if the average value of those vehicles were $10,000, then our sunk cost there would be $2.5 trillion. Add $150 per month for insurance, repairs and maintenance, and those vehicles are costing us another $450 billion per year.
Estimating the sunk cost of the commercial aircraft fleet is even harder, as it comprises a wide variety of sizes, types, and ages. I wasn’t able to find any studies on its current value, but did find that the U.S. cargo and passenger commercial aircraft fleet stood at 7,122 planes in 2009, and that a used 1987 Boeing 737 costs about $2 million. On that basis, a ballpark estimate of the value of the existing fleet would be around $14 billion.
U.S. aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) costs are harder still to establish (the only current data I could find would cost me $2,462 for a copy of the report), but I was able to find that the global market for commercial aircraft MRO in 2011 is an estimated $50 billion per year, and that the U.S. accounts for one-third of global air traffic, so for our purposes here let’s assume it’s $16.5 billion per year.
The sunk cost of the nation’s air transportation infrastructure, including some 600 commercial airports, is likewise hard to establish as it encompasses everything from large hubs to smaller air freight facilities, and decades of continuous building and rebuilding. For some rough measures: The new construction cost of a modern, medium-sized passenger airport is over $1 billion. The renovation of a single terminal at LAX from 2007 to 2010 was $737 million. The replacement value of the US commercial airport system was estimated at over $1 trillion in 1992; in 2011 adjusted dollars, the value would be around $1.6 trillion.
But those are just the moderately hard-to-estimate costs. They don’t include the value of the millions of acres of land on which the roads and airports are built; the associated infrastructure costs (like gasoline stations and refineries, oil and natural gas pipelines, and so on); the untold environmental and health damage caused by tires and brake pads turning into dust and escaping into the environment (a serious health risk in places like Los Angeles); and numerous other real costs. For this exercise, I won’t even try to estimate those.
In sum, the U.S. has already spent over $6 trillion in direct costs for transportation infrastructure, not including a good deal of associated infrastructure and land values, and not fully accounting for replacement costs in 2011 dollars. (If I had to guess, I’d peg the current present value of all of it at perhaps double that: $12 trillion.) The mere existence of that infrastructure, which is to say our complete dependence on it, means that we’re already committed to spending at least $1.6 trillion additional dollars per year in maintenance, new vehicles, and fuel (leaving out the associated costs, like military expenditures). Again, the real numbers, if we had them, would be substantially larger.
The real cost context
Now consider that all of this transportation infrastructure was built in an era of cheap and highly available fuel, and on the assumption that fuel would remain cheap and highly available. As airline industry analyst Michael Boyd commented at a 2008 conference I attended, our air transportation infrastructure was built on the expectation that oil would rarely cost more than $40 a barrel; no planes in use today were designed with the expectation of oil over $50; and the entire industry is obsolete with oil at $100 a barrel.
This sort of consideration is why, in a typical example of smart energy planning by the military, the U.S. Navy announced this week that it would begin taking a lifecycle view of energy costs when buying transport systems like ships and planes. Energy costs shot up at 13 times the rate of inflation between 2001 and 2009 for its fixed-wing aircraft, raising worries that the cost of fuel could seriously impair its fighting capability and force structure. Because it is an operational imperative for the military to function no matter what the price of oil is, they tend to take a rational and data-oriented approach to their forecasting, unlike the ideologically driven forecasting of politicians.
For the same reasons, our surface transportation regime, which blows a $500 billion hole in our pocket every year for imported oil, is utterly unsustainable in the coming era of declining fossil fuels and rising prices…as if we really wanted to maintain a system that’s already unworkable in terms of gridlock, delay, and health anyway. And that hole is only getting bigger as we move into a resource constrained future.
In this context, the current debate over energy subsidies seems entirely misbegotten. What’s the point in arguing over some $4 billion per year in oil industry subsidies (which I have long opposed) when we’re already on the hook for $1.6 trillion per year to remain with our current transportation regime? The debates over the cost of a single trip from Washington D.C. to Boston by rail instead of car, or over whether there is sufficient ridership to support a particular high speed rail line, or whether the public should have to shoulder the cost of building a new rail system, are downright picayune. They also erroneously compare a regime with at least $6 trillion in sunk costs against a system that hasn’t yet been built.
This context also demonstrates why the US High Speed Rail Association’s newly-updated $600 billion price tag for a system that would cover all our major metropolitan cities is decidedly cheap. The $40 billion or so we’ve spent on Amtrak is peanuts. Who wouldn’t think it makes sense to spend a bit more than one-third of our existing annual transportation commitment to permanently retire a substantial portion of our unsustainable air and road traffic?
Instead of incremental spending on an effectively dead transportation regime, we should be thinking about one that can survive the challenges ahead, and deliver more economic benefits than costs. We should be setting an ambitious target, like replacing all commercial passenger air flights with high speed rail for trips under 1,000 miles, replacing 90 percent of our city street traffic with light rail, and moving all long-haul freight traffic to rail. Even if the cost of all that rail infrastructure were in the range of $3 trillion, it would be a fantastic investment.
Against $6 trillion (minimum) in sunk costs and $1.6 trillion per year in maintenance, the $1.2 trillion per year estimate I offered in my article on infrastructure, plus building the high speed rail network at a generous estimate of $1 trillion, looks very reasonable. Put another way: Would you rather spend another $32 trillion over the next 20 years just to maintain our outmoded, unscalable, aged, unhealthy system, plus another $2.8 trillion in lost productivity due to delays and gridlock, only to wind up out of gas? Or would you rather spend $25 trillion to repair our existing infrastructure, transition transportation to rail, transition the power grid to renewables, upgrade the entire grid, and solve the carbon problem, to have free fuel forever?
Even if the cost of transition were twice the cost of maintaining the incumbent system, it would be a small price to pay to free the economy from fossil fuels. At $1.6 trillion a year in maintenance, it could pay for itself in 30 years.
A question of leadership
Before we even debate the future of transportation, let’s remember that nobody demanded a full accounting for our existing infrastructure before we built it. We just built it, over many decades, using cost-benefit analyses and justifications (like national security) that made sense at the time. We should adopt a similarly audacious stance now, rather than demanding every penny of the alternative to be anticipated and paid for before we even embark on the project.
We should also bear in mind that the fossil fuel and automobile industries together represent the largest lobby in America. As energy analyst Gregor Macdonald observed, “These two industries dwarf any other influence on US energy policy through their widespread distribution throughout 50 US states, and Congress.” They can outspend the rail and renewable alternatives 100 to 1 on media campaigns and legal bribery without even feeling a pinch. And they receive an enormous payoff for every dollar they spend on it in the form of limited regulations, favorable incentives, and most of all, in keeping us committed to their products.
The transportation choices we make now ultimately come down to leadership. Can we mount a sufficient lobby and recruit representation who will seize the opportunity to take us down a more sustainable path? Can we reorient our policy decisions around long-term scientific analysis and cost reduction rather than short-term jobs programs? Do we still have the right stuff as a nation to tackle a big, hairy, audacious objective like total transportation reform, or are we going to simply let our existing systems become rusted and obsolete in the face of declining fuels and rising costs, while watching our economy shrink as a consequence?
To be clear: I don’t think we’ll make the obviously better choice, because we’re so politically and physically wedded to the incumbents. Nor do I claim that this thought exercise is comprehensive by any means. There are many things I left out, like parking, or the costs and fuel demands embedded in the transition process. Some things might be double-counted where data sets overlap. I only considered direct costs, not moral costs like deaths per passenger-mile, or environmental destruction per kilowatt-hour. And these numbers are far from precise. But they should be clear enough to inform our policy choices, and contextualize the real costs of our action or inaction. The debate on transportation should not be about little Pigovian taxes, or a few billion a year in incentives here or there. It should be about where we want to end up.
*Demonstrating the difficulty of finding good numbers, annual estimates for what we need to spend on surface transportation maintenance range from $130 billion (2006 National Cooperative Highway Research Program estimate) to $268 billion (“high” policy commission scenario) per year through 2035 in the 2009 National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission report (all adjusted 2008 dollars). The American Society of Civil Engineers estimated transportation maintenance costs at $186 billion per year in its 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure.
Photo: Grand Central Station (chrisschoenbohm/Flickr)
Oct 18, 2011
Actually, most European rail providers are not losing money. They are now completely self-sufficient right out of the fartebox. SNCF continues to turn a profit and is continuing to expand its high speed footprint throughout France. DB is doing likewise. And this year DB and SNCF will be operating trains through the Channel Tunnel, whereas before it was just Eurostar. And Alstom just late last year delivered its first AGV trainset to Italian operator NTV. It's a step up from the TGV, in that it uses distributed power. Each bogie on the train is a powered bogie. This allows for more passengers, because what used to be the power car up front and at the back can now seat passengers. It is much more efficient. When braking, power is taken from the bogies and fed back into the power grid. I don't know why so many people believe that just because the train travels along at 360 km/h that it is less efficient. That's not the case. They are almost 5 times more efficient than a diesel-powered locomotive. GE's newest and largest Diesel-powered locomotive generates approximately 6, 250 horsepower or 4.660 MW, while the AGV generates 6.080 MW And even the newer diesel-powered locomotives still emmit tons of oxides of nitrogen and other pollutants. But, as with so many other things, we have the need to re-invent the wheel every time we do something. Their train technology surpasses anything we have in the U.S., but current regulations do not allow its use here, and will have to be changed before the California system is operational. And, Amtrak is a joke. Stainless Steel cars versus aircraft grade aluminum on the European rolling stock. Amtrak's Acela travels at 150 mph for just 10 miles out of 457 in the Northeast Corridor. It will be five to ten more years before they will have finished upgrading the track throughout the corridor. But even with those upgrades, Acela still will not be able to operate at high speed for most of its run because of the many turns in the corridor. The Chinese just finished laying over 1,000 miles of track in two years and their newest high speed train is now operational. And here we sit watching the world pass us by. For crying out loud, even Uzbekistan has HSR between their two biggest cities.
Most of you guys are missing the point. All of your concerns and ideas for transportation change are predicated on the assumption that energy prices will become more and more unaffordable with the consequence that all of us will have to take drastic measures and settle for a lower cost living style. The fact is that energy is going to remain cheap enough for the forseeable future (despite current oil price rises which are nothing to do with fundamental scarcity). Shale gas is coming on stream very fast now and is likely to be good for hundreds of years. I really don't think we should be radically altering transportation because of a hypothetical threat a couple of centuries down the line. In the longer term energy costs are much more likely to go down as safe, efficient thorium-based nuclear plants come on stream (thorium is in effect a safe and limitless fuel). Our descendants in 150 years time wont thank us for making crazy retrogressive changes to our transportation infrastructure because of what, by then, will be regarded as the quaint old notion their great grandparents had that energy supplies were going to dry up. In short this is all about hysteria from the environmental crowd who actually hate the world as it is and hate even more the prospect of how it might become in a steadily improving future. Well thats fine - everyone is entitled to their point of view. But they should not be able to impose those views on the vast majority of us who simply want to leave the world a better, not an impoverished, place for our great grand children to enjoy, at a standard of living that, looking back, will make us seem like paupers.
Chris Nelder does a good job of highlighting the lack of attention paid to the costs of our transport regime. $1.6 trillion (?) is a lot of money. There are a couple of other points: one is that the money spent in aggregate on our transport and what it connects is stranded which means it cannot pay for itself. Infrastructure does not earn much of anything from its use, it's a gigantic toy with a large criminal element.. Users are required to borrow 'earnings'. What is the endless complaint of the establishment, today? Excess debt. The purchasing power of the economy is declining because of debt deleveraging. The cost of debt has become unaffordable. Cheap debt has been a lifestyle subsidy along with cheap credit. 'Old' oil was very cheap and easy to come by. 'New' oil at the bottom of the sea is costly to extract ... also too costly to afford. When debt is unaffordable along with the the new oil, there will be a lot less oil in a hurry. When the shortages hit it will be because oil is unaffordable ... the shortages will be permanent. OPEC can cut production all it likes but if oil is unaffordable @ $70/barrel it will be just as unaffordable @ $100/barrel. Oil will instead be extremely cheap but nobody will have any money. Right now the fuel shortages in China are ongoing, Fuel at today's high price is still too low to bring sufficient fuel to satisfy the Chinese market. yet a higher fuel price cannot be afforded by China's customers. Is this dynamic coming to the US? Coming? It's here!
They need to make the changes needed to support moving mail and small packages on passenger trains as they once did. I???ll bet a well designed work flow would be more cost effective for moving small cargo between major cities than shipping by trucks and planes as USPS, FedEx and UPS do now. Build it and they will come when you show them the savings. They also need to establish rail hubs at port terminals so that shipping containers can be moved rapidly from ship to rail. Every month tens of thousands of shipping containers leave US ports on trucks bound for cities in middle America. Rail is the perfect mover for such long distance shipments, but has never made the connection. And HSR is a waste of money. Europe has proven that. It???s post WW II express trains running at close to 100 mph were extremely profitable and cost effective to maintain. HSR as developed in Europe has been a money losing venture from day one with excessive startup and operating costs. The US needs to bring back the express rail service it had until the 1950s. It is a sad state of affairs when todays HSR, and high price tag, Accela train between Boston and NY City is HOURS slower on that trip than the 1940s steam train than ran that ran between those cities.
I interpret the article to mean that the status quo is not sustainable. The author has attempted to work out how much was spent to build the transportation infrastructure and how much we spend to maintain it. The author also implies that the past assumptions based on cheap and easily obtainable fuel need to be reevaluated. This is a more complex problem and should not be quickly dismissed as too expensive or not worth doing. I live in a crowded area where people commute up to 100 miles one way. They live where they can afford a home but work where they can get paid enough to afford the home as well as commute. It would be better for those people if they had more choices locally for jobs instead of commuting long distances. Where we should want to end up is living in affordable homes a short distance away from the jobs. The jobs should be close enough and there should be several transportation choices from walking, biking or public transportation to reduce congestion on highways and roads. Stores and services should also be close and convenient enough to reduce the need to have a single occupant driving. Travelling to more distant locations for tourism and business should also be considered. It is possible that with commercial space ports and sub orbital flights that we can make these journeys relatively cheap and fast in the future. High Speed Rail would work only as well as it can take people to where they want to go, if the destination is not on the HSR route then it is not as effective.
Never mind the fact that HSR is neither carbon or energy efficient. Nor can rail, especially HSR go to very many of the places that people want or need to go. No matter how many miles of rail we build, we're still going to need roads and automobiles to get us to and from the train station.
Er...the trillions spent over the decades on the existing transport infrastructure is a sunk cost. You think we should swap roads for trains? What makes you think that we havent got the balance between the two forms of transport just about right for our needs as a society? You think roads will not be "sustainable" because of the end of cheap oil? Havent you heard the GOOD NEWS about gas shale? Or nuclear energy based on thorium? Both are primary energy sources that can and will generate the necessary electricity for all forms of surface transport. And will also provide all our other needs for a low cost, prosperous and happy 21st century. I am afraid you are living on another planet - not the Smart Planet the rest of us live on.
What I'm proposing, especially the port terminals, would help current transportation problems like traffic congestion and would make passenger rail service profitable as it once was. It also make sense. They are looking at spending several billion dollars to widen I93 from the MA/NH state line up to Concord NH over the next 20 years to support NH commuters working in MA. A closed parallel rail bed exists that could be rebuilt, train stations reopened and cost effective diesel electric express trains put on it for half the cost. They are looking at a similar situation in Connecticut and western MA with I 91. That discussion on trains is further along than the I93 project, but has hit a cost road block because they are talking of costly Acela style trains.
Accela train between Boston and NY City is HOURS slower on that trip than the 1940s steam train than ran that ran between those cities. Wow! I've never been on that line and now I think I'll avoid it. And HSR is a waste of money. Europe has proven that. It???s post WW II express trains running at close to 100 mph were extremely profitable and cost effective to maintain. HSR as developed in Europe has been a money losing venture from day one with excessive startup and operating costs. I'm going to agree and disagree here. Spain does well. France does well. Italy is doing all right. Britian does - saying they've done it badly would, I'd be forced to say, be an understatement. Looking at their costs, I'm thinking they should be putting their Flying Scotsman (a steam train) back into service. The HSR wasn't a significant improvement in performance but was a significant increase in cost! A big problem in Britain is that few of the trains have the running room to work efficiently. They are all built for the chunnel, not for their routes. In Japan, you could (pre-tsunami) go from the northern end to the southern end in under 5 hours. But that train only had something like 6 stops. You'd take a slower train to one of the stations it stopped at and then get on it. There was enough ridership for it to be cost-effective. The thing with HSRs is that their cost effectiveness goes up with both ridership and the longer the time/distance they can spend running at or near full speed. It makes no sense to put an HSR between NY, NY and Newark, NJ. If you're putting in an HSR, something like a ZEFIRO which can reach speeds of up to 380km/h, anything more than one stop in a state is probably a waste of money. A NY to LA with maybe a dozen stops relatively equally spaced along the way would be a cost effective alternative to flying. However, it the HSR never gets past 160km/h (about 100mph), then you've wasted a whole lot of money on overkill. And reading some more about the Accela trains between Ny and Boston, that seems to be the biggest problem. It's a good train in the wrong place. Nothing is as bad as mis-applied technology.
People do not flee cities simply because homes are cheaper in the 'burbs. They also flee because they find cities inhospitable places to live and poor places to raise families. It seems that I say this at least once a week here, but here we go again: If planners want to get people back into living in the cities, then they need to address the reasons that people leave and/or endure painful and expensive commuting.
Let me take you back for a moment to 1867. Train tracks crossed the country, moving people and goods long distances from one place to another. Roads were made to carry people and goods to and from the train stations. Towns and villages and even cities grew up around these railway stations. And you are saying this was a problem? How so? We built that system back then the way it was built because energy was expensive. What Chris is talking about is that this era we live in, with oil and shale gas, is a temporary era of cheap energy. It's not sustainable. It's not permanent. Therefore, how do we build a transportation system in an era when energy is more expensive? The answer, we've already done it once. It looked like 1867. So we can do it again. It'll likely look much the same, only hopefully better. And trains are, so far, the most energy efficient means of transportation mankind has yet invented. They move a large amount of goods and people at a fraction of the energy costs of any other form of transportation. They're not as convenient as cars or trucks. And before the invention of containers, loading and unloading of trains was considerably more expensive than simply loading it into a truck once and driving it across the country. But if you're in the business now of moving non-perishable materials around the globe, you load them into containers, and load those containers onto trains to cross the country, and then load them on to trucks for their last mile. With the high price of fuel, it's the most cost effective way to go and it is the way business operates today. It looks nothing like 1967 when everything was loaded onto trucks to move by interstate highway across the country, and looks instead very much like an improved version of 1867. So this means, we shouldn't be tearing up tracks, but laying new tracks. While HSR is more expensive, it's not so much more expensive than old style rail. If we're going to lay down tracks, we might as well spend the extra and make them HSR. There is nothing to say that HSR can't handle freight as well. And with HSR freight, we'll be able to include the perishables as freight as well.
Stein's law: Something that cannot continue forever will stop. Shale gas is not an answer. Shale gas is a finite resource, just like oil. Eventually, we'll run out of it too. With shale gas, we're only kicking the can down the road, not solving the problem. That means, shale gas is not smart. I use to live in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The old trolly line from downtown to Britannia Beach has been a bike path all of my life. However, the city is looking at turning it into an LRT to solve the public transit problem. It seems that as we move forward, we're also moving backwards. But this makes sense from a smart planet perspective. Trollies and trains are from an era before cheap non-renewable energy (oil, shale gas, etc.) A trolly can carry maybe 30 people at 2.5 times the energy cost of a car. We're not talking $ but kW/h. It's significantly more efficient. A train can carry hundreds of people at a fraction of the energy costs over automobiles. We used trains and trollies at the time, crossing the country or just the city, because energy costs at the time were very expensive. Eventually the shale gas will run out and the cost of energy will again be very expensive. And that is why we look back to trains and trollies.
And nothing quite as wonderful as perfectly applied technology. That idea of reopening that abandoned rail line is a good one. It would be cheaper by far. And the train doesn't need to go faster than 80MPH, which is faster than the cars can travel on the highway. Which means, Acela, while a good train, is the wrong tool for the job. There are plenty of very good commuter train models that would fit the bill much better.
You are being geo centric, I am not talking about suburbs. I am talking about people who live 100 miles away commuting to their jobs. This is what is going on in the San Francisco Bay area. Part of the problem is a voter initiative that you would have liked, Proposition 13 which was to keep the old folks in their homes without having to worry about rising property taxes as well as other tweaks. Real Estate prices in the Bay area has not been as effected by the recession as other locations, the housing costs are already back above recession levels. But, the jobs are in Silicone Valley and the Bay Area and cheap housing is getting further away towards the Sierras.
Let me take you back for a moment to 1867. Train tracks crossed the country, moving people and goods long distances from one place to another. Roads were made to carry people and goods to and from the train stations. Towns and villages and even cities grew up around these railway stations. And you are saying this was a problem? How so? I don't recall saying this was "a problem". We built that system back then the way it was built because energy was expensive. Wrong. Technology was expensive. And the system was built that way because rail was the only technology at the time. And the rail only went to where it was profitable to do so. What Chris is talking about is that this era we live in, with oil and shale gas, is a temporary era of cheap energy. It's not sustainable. It's not permanent. Therefore, how do we build a transportation system in an era when energy is more expensive? I don't know yet. But then again, I don't think he does either. But whatever alternative technology that emerges that makes HSR comparatively efficient will also likely make competing forms of transport more efficient as well, keeping HSR as the lesser efficient technology. And trains are, so far, the most energy efficient means of transportation mankind has yet invented??? While HSR is more expensive, it's not so much more expensive than old style rail. Traditional rail is very efficient. However, HSR is not. It takes tremendous amounts of energy to propel a train past 80 mph, and track stock capable of handing such trains costs an order of magnitude more to construct, maintain, and operate. HSR advocates seem to be either ignorant of this, or just lie about it.
In fact, I used to live in California. And the Progressive insanity promulgated by the denizens of places like San Francisco is one of the reasons I left. Having built homes, I can also tell you for a fact that local and state governments are responsible for much of the high cost. In fact, I find it most ironic that the same politicians who constantly bemoan the dearth of "affordable housing" are usually the same ones behind legislation that makes building housing even more difficult and expensive.
The reason why housing is expensive in San Francisco is more demand than supply. This should be obvious to a businessman. SF has finite land, the borders have been set long ago and there can not be any extension of those borders. I did not say that Prop 13 was wholly responsible for property values in SF, read it again and don't add words that weren't there. There are problems not caused by governments or regulations.
And exactly why would Proposition 13 be wholly responsible for property values in San Francisco? I'd suggest that the main reason that it's so expensive to live in San Francisco has more to do with local regulation and how difficult and expensive government makes it to create more housing to meet demand than Proposition 13.
We built that system back then the way it was built because energy was expensive. Wrong. Technology was expensive. Yes, technology was expensive, but energy was also very expensive. Trains ran on wood. (Some also ran on coal, but most of the ones in North America ran on wood because wood was plentiful.) Do you have any idea how many man-hours it takes to cut down a tree and chop it into firewood when you have only axes and other hand-powered tools? Maybe you charge nothing for labour but most of us aren't willing to do that kind of back-breaking work for a pittance. The price of cut wood at the time makes the price of oil now look very cheap by comparison. Traditional rail is very efficient. However, HSR is not. It takes tremendous amounts of energy to propel a train past 80 mph, and track stock capable of handing such trains costs an order of magnitude more to construct, maintain, and operate. HSR advocates seem to be either ignorant of this, or just lie about it. I guess it depends where you get your numbers from and who's technology your looking at. I get my numbers from Japan and France where the cost of their HSR systems is not at all excessive and with excellent ROI. But I'll admit the U.S. is a different ball of wax. I'll also admit one other thing, I wouldn't let Americans be the ones designing and building the HSR lines. The U.S. ceased to have decent rail engineers about 50 years ago. Any who are left are well past retirement age. And that means importing the skills which is going to make the project more expensive. I've always advocated that what the U.S. needs is to spend more money on training more world class engineers who will stay home. If the U.S. is going to have a cost-effective HSR, which should certainly be possible, it's going to need to have people who can design and build it that way, something it doesn't have.